October proved to be a black and dreary month for the Bengals. It was the part of the schedule that was supposed to propel them into early playoff contenders and make the season's daunting second half more approachable. Instead, the team quickly unraveled and the season seemed lost before it had a chance to get off the ground. Four games were lost in October, and not even the bye week could slow down the self-destruction. Marvin Lewis' troops looked confused and apathetic, his quarterback depleted of late-game magic, and the support of his owner conspicuously absent. What smelled like roses such a short time ago now stunk of lame duck.
It started with the mistake on the lake. The loss in Cleveland opened eyes and raised eyebrows of those suddenly questioning the legitimacy of this team. Strengths like strong running and quality defense were watered down into a tepid brew of mediocrity, and the obsession to stay balanced on offense obscured the brief moments of success using the no-huddle offense.
Then the Bengals failed to protect a seven point lead and gave up 10 points in the last three minutes to lose to the Buccaneers. What should have been a bounce-back game from the Cleveland debacle wound up as further evidence to support the growing theory that the Bengals just weren't very good anymore. For the first time ever, Cedric Benson rushed for over 100-yards and the Bengals lost on the same day. After five games, Cincinnati's record dropped to 2-3 and the team had yet to effectively combine its offense, defense and special teams well enough to win consistently. Like light-bulbs on a string of Christmas lights, a few bad connections ruined the entire operation and while it was only three losses, real concern began to drizzle down upon the Bengal community.
Fortunately, many Bengals fans told themselves, a bye week was next. Surely a week off would refocus the main objective for the players and coaches and they would return as new men who were forcefully dedicated to turning the season around. None of that, of course, was meant to be.
The following week in Atlanta, the players and coaches stared at a scoreboard that read they were down 24-3 at halftime. For the only time that month, the Bengals emerged from the locker room and looked like a credible team. With the help of the no-huddle once again (and a defensive fumble), Cincinnati stormed back and took the lead. For one marvelous quarter, the fight seemed back in these jungle cats. Then the fourth quarter rolled around and Benson fumbled the team's chances away.
Now the ire and frustrations of Bengal supporters reached desperate levels. The other teams in the division weren't losing, no particular player on the team appeared all that inspired, and the only response coming from Paul Brown Stadium concerning the losses was a reiteration that each member of the team had to work harder.
The next week, in a game the Bengals absolutely needed to win in order to keep the season from slipping through their fingers, they lost, 22-14 to Miami. Upon that outcome, the city could feel a wind of loyalty and intrigue blow out of Cincinnati. The people were no longer angry; instead, they slipped back into the casual-observer role who expects their team to lose from then on out. And that's where we stand now—defeated and resigned for future failure.
The leadership from the top down has once more been questioned. The assumption is that Marvin, in his own mind and spirit, has moved on from the Bengals. He will coach for the remainder of the season and find other employment once his contract is officially fulfilled. Chances are that he will find an organization that operates on a more standard day-to-day basis, and will, in all likelihood, have more success elsewhere.
His players are certainly playing like they're simply going through the motions. The best example of such an accusation resides in the play of arguably the most productive Bengal, Terrell Owens. At first glance, one may be inclined to defend TO—and the man has certainly earned his money—but if he put forth 100 percent of effort instead of 80, his team would have at least one more win this season.
In both the Miami and the Tampa Bay loss, his inability to fight for, or go after passes in the air, led to game-losing or game-tying interceptions by Carson Palmer. Last week, TO could have caught or at least incurred a pass-interference penalty on a long pass attempt in the end zone late in the game had he not just stood there with his arms held out awaiting a perfect pass. He is slow in and out of his breaks, is easily tackled around the legs, and doesn't bother with throws that aren't perfectly delivered his way.
On the other side, Chad Ochocinco seems to need yoga and meditation to get his mind clear enough to catch passes. For some reason, Chad and Carson have been unable to hook up on a regular basis—like they had for eight straight years—and especially when it matters the most, like on 3rd and short or on 2-point conversions.
The other factor that led to the loss against the Dolphins is the coaching decision to move away from the no-huddle after it had proven effective in the first half. The ability for the Bengals to properly adjust during a game is sadly lacking, but with no pressure from the general manager or the owner—in this case the same man—static play-calling can carry on undeterred, and so it goes.
How long the losing will continue is anyone's guess. The schedule gets harder, the injuries mount and the fan-base dwindles. Faith in an organizational turnaround is nil and many are already eying next season. At this point, if the defense can't improve and the coaches insist on balance and continue to resist using the no-huddle at practically all times, there's no reason to sugar coat the season as anything more than doom and gloom. In order to get a win, the men involved have to want a win, and at this point, I'm not totally convinced that's the case. Duck should not be served lame, but I'm afraid that's the only kind offered at the Bengals luncheons these days.
Mojokong—may the remainder of the winter be storybook or else.